by Zana Pommier
Dragon hatchlings are in good hands.
This January, MSUM’s Early Education Center was officially given a four-star rating, the highest possible, by the Parent Aware Rating System.
“It’s a mark of quality, or another way of showing families the type of quality we’re providing without them actually staying here all day,” Lacey Hoppe, Director of the Early Education Center, said.
The Parent Aware system rates child care providers based on preparation practices for kindergarten. This rating system is new to Clay County and aims to send children into school who are better equipped with the skills to succeed. Facilities that want to participate go through in-depth training and have a commitment to children’s learning and safety.
However, the center was able to take part in an accelerated application process. It already had accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
“What we had to send to show it was that the teachers had been trained in curriculum and assessment trainings within the last five years. We already had done the quality part of it by doing our accreditation,” Hoppe said.
In order to receive the highest rating, a center has to have education credentials, develop close relationships with families and participate in individualized child assessment.
So what ultimately sets up the MSUM Early Education Center for four star success?
Hoppe believes it’s the staff that makes all the difference. Since the center is part of the university, students are able to get involved. In fact, the center has four teachers in addition to practicum students, student teachers and at least 28 student workers.
“Being part of the college is unique to us because we can offer different activities that other centers can’t because we have a bigger identity that’s doing things with us,” Hoppe said.
In fact, this unique pairing with a university allows the children of students, faculty and the community to be accepted, with discounts for those involved with the university. The four star rating also gives financial benefits for qualifying families.
“If you’re four-star rated, parents can get scholarships through the state, and we get a higher reimbursement rate for any families that are on county assistance,” Hoppe said.
The center’s more-than-qualified staff go above and beyond the requirements for their four-star rating.
“The teachers and I all have four-year teaching degrees and teaching licenses from the state, and that’s not a requirement of licensing at a childcare center, so I think that’s unique to us,” Hoppe said.
This allows the center to be set up as four rooms: two for toddlers, and two for preschoolers, and each child is placed with a teacher. In addition, the toddler room requires at least two student workers at any given time, while the preschool room needs at least one. This environment mimics a school setting, which helps fulfill the Parent Aware system’s goal of preparing children for kindergarten.
“The classrooms are set up into different stations, so they think they’re just playing, but they’re learning through play throughout the day,” Hoppe said.
Ultimately, the center’s success lies in the friendships children make with each other, as well as the connections made with their caretakers.
“They form a pretty close bond with their teacher, pretty much any adult that’s around here they form a connection with,” Hoppe said.